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SCRUTINY | Talk Is Free Theatre’s ‘Manimals’ Is A Total Embrace Of Performer And Viewer

Michelle Hudson in Talk Is Free Theatre’s Manimals. (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Talk Is Free Theatre, Manimals. Written and performed by Michelle Hudson, directed by Flo O’Mahony.  Live streamed Mar. 5 to 7; Mar. 12 to 14. Tickets available at tift.ca.Michelle Hudson is an actor, producer, theatre maker, multimedia artist and game designer which certainly gives her the qualifications to come up with an innovative, immersive online digital production, and, for the most part, her one-woman virtual show Manimals delivers the goods. Expat Hudson (who is a graduate of the Arts & Sciences program at McMaster University), is based in London, England, and it was the pandemic lockdown in the English capital that gave her the time to gather the creative forces around her to create Manimals.
The premise of the show is inspired by Hudson’s own dismal experiences with online dating. Her website/game creation Manimals is designed to be a fast track to love, by getting rid of all the bad stuff on other online dating sites that leads to bad matches. The show is in the form of a workshop, where we, the audience, are being coached in the riches of Manimals.
Along the way, we also hear snippets of Hudson’s personal search for love. The immersive part is two-fold. First, we have been supplied with a Manimals app for our cell phones, which is a dating game we get to play during the show. The actual workshop with Hudson is a Zoom call on our laptops, so this is a two-device experience. Hudson also calls on audience members to play roles such as a best friend, a first date, and an advice-giver. Alert: you have to do some pre-show preparation like setting up the Manimals app and creating a dating profile. The title Manimals comes from Hudson’s observation that more and more men on dating sites are posing with exotic animals, which is the centre point of the cell phone game.

It is only after the fact that one sees just how complex Manimals is. Because Hudson plays all the characters, her other personas are pre-recorded, and inserted into Zoom as thumbnails. while she is live with us at the workshop. The Manimals app, designed by Hudson herself, is a thoroughly thought-out dating game that is epic in its scope. Audience members who are brought in to assist Hudson are not just tokens, but have to participate in big ways. In fact, so impressive were my colleagues that I thought they were part of the show, and had to check with Manimals producer that they weren’t. Amy Strike is credited as game dramaturg and designer and, along with creative technician Chloe Mashiter, deserve kudos for pulling together the many complicated technical aspects of Manimals, including putting us in breakout rooms where we get up close and personal with fellow workshop attendees. (My newfound friend was Kitty who was he/they.)
I do, however, have two points of concern. First is the ending that is so abrupt, I had no idea that the show was over, and was completely caught off-guard. Somehow, Hudson and director Flo O’Mahony have got to find a better transition. Second, Hudson takes a magic realism approach to the text when it comes to her personal story. These flights of fancy give the show its quirky sense of whimsy, but it also means that her monologues are like unconnected fragments of thoughts. If you are chained to realism, Hudson’s text will leave you, at times, scratching your head.
On the other hand, taken together, Hudson’s many tangents contain real substance, particularly in portraying the desperation to find “The Right. One”. She also touches on rejection, and the loser-mentality, and the devastation caused by making poor choices. At one point she says that total frustration caused her to “swipe right”, meaning giving “a like”, to every man on the dating site. Clearly, for Hudson, lack of judgement is a serious bi-product in the search for a partner.
Her story also has some mystery as her scary business partner Mikey appears from time-to-time barking out orders like “Don’t play the piano!” and “Shut down this workshop!”, so we wonder about that relationship, and the actual integrity of Hudson herself. The show even includes a section where ex-boyfriends Alex and Mark, portrayed by hand puppets, trash talk Hudson which brings up the trauma of betrayal.
Hudson is a talented actor, and her transformation into her assistant Mimi, or Mikey, is very real. She literally becomes a different person. Hudson is also very good at conveying mood, and must have worked closely with director O’Mahony to discover the fine print of each monologue. Surprisingly, the overall sense of Manimals is melancholy. In a way, it is a very sad show, as increasingly, we discover Hudson is not entirely truthful that her Manimals site helped her find true love.
From an immersive point of view, Manimals certainly keeps the audience busy, and is a fine example of how to create online theatre that is a total embrace of both performer and viewer. A big shout-out goes to Talk Is Free Theatre and artistic director Arkady Spivak for bringing us Manimals’ Canadian premiere. The Barrie-based company is among the most adventurous in the extended GTA, which makes Michelle Hudson’s Manimals a show that is right up Spivak’s alley.
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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.

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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.

Latest posts by Paula Citron (see all)

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Friedrich Gulda Was A Man Of Many Parts

Friedrich Gulda: Symphony in G (SWR Musik)
★★★★☆
🎧 Presto | Amazon
The Viennese pianist Friedrich Gulda was a commanding interpreter of Mozart and Beethoven in the 1950s and 1960s. Had he stuck to the classics and modified his more eccentric behaviours, he might have filled the space in the record catalogues that was soon occupied by Alfred Brendel.
Gulda, however, was a man of many parts. After giving his Carnegie Hall debut, he went off to play the Newport Jazz Festival. He wore a Turkish kepi on stage, sometimes otherwise naked.
His interest in jazz was non-pecuniary and all-consuming. He organized an international competition for modern jazz composers and set up a summer course in improvisation. In 1970, he wrote a symphony in G that combined classical string orchestra and jazz big band. It has three movements: Maestoso, Andante and Adagio. It is nearer Nuremburg than New Orleans.

But Gulda has a gift for melody and his slow movements are unassumedly affecting. He conducts the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra himself and, if you buy this album, you will be among the first to hear the symphony, since it has not been released before. Naive at worst, it has 35 minutes of invention, which is more than can be said for most late 20th century symphonies. And if your attention does flag, skip to the bonus tracks of Gulda playing piano, when you will be instantly aware that you are in the presence of a master.
To read more from Norman Lebrecht, follow him on Slippedisc.com.
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Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

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Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

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ANALYSIS | The Scariest Trend In Classical Music: It’s Not 2021. It’s 2031

A few weeks ago, we looked at five trends affecting classical music organizations, as well as some of the ways they have pivoted amid the pandemic.
Here’s a recap:
Once thought to be a supplementary product, digital media is now a core part of the fan experience.
Streaming Video is overcoming streaming audio to become the most significant growth area in the music sector.
Artists and fans have embraced direct-to-consumer distribution, bypassing live music venues.
Social music tech has exploded. Musicians are hungry for new products that can help them bring music to their fans, and play together with other musicians.
The subscription model is king. Subscription events are an ideal model as the value proposition is closely aligned with the scarcity associated with touring. This helps ticketed live streaming events differentiate themselves from the ubiquitous “free” streams found on social media (TikTok, Facebook, YouTube).
Of these five trends, there was one prediction we left out.
It’s not 2021. It’s 2031
According to NYU Stern School of Business professor and author Scott Galloway, the pandemic has accelerated the progression of trends in all industries, including music, by approximately 10 years.
This means that whatever trend affecting a music organization before the pandemic is now ten years ahead of schedule.
Let’s use a hypothetical example of an opera company to illustrate what this could mean.
A hypothetical opera company has been losing an average of 2.5% of its audience every year since 2012.

While this gradual loss of audience is never good, the time span gives them plenty of time to turn things around. The cumulative loss would equal 20% over the period. If Galloway’s hypothesis is correct, the pandemic’s acceleration effect will leave our hypothetical opera company with a cumulative audience decline of 40%.

According to Galloway, the inverse is also true. Organizations that were trending up before the pandemic will be in a much better position to come out the other side as winners. This is especially true for those who have adapted to current market trends before the pandemic (see the five trends outlined above).
This could mean a repositioning of classical music organizations that will see those doing well, do exponentially well after the pandemic, and those struggling do exponentially worse. Scary.
For more on Galloway’s hypothesis, read Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity.
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

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THE SCOOP | Honens International Piano Competition Moves To 2022

Jon Kimura Parker, Artistic Director of Honens
Initially scheduled for October 2021, the Honens International Piano Competition will be postponed for a year.This year’s finals were to have taken place in Calgary following Quarterfinal rounds in New York and Berlin in June.
Artistic Director Jon Kimura Parker released a video explaining the decision was due to ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, especially considering international competitors.
“Ultimately, we could not guarantee the quarterfinals would take place in a manner that served all 50 quarterfinalists fairly and in a way that lived up to our very high expectations,” said Parker in a video statement released today.

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“This is less of a decision than it is the acceptance of an inevitability,” said President & CEO Neil Edwards. “We have explored every option and determined that the current world situation makes it impossible for us to present a Competition worthy of Honens’ high international standard and reputation.”
The chosen quarterfinalists, juries, and collaborating artists will all remain for 2022.
Honens will announce the new dates for events in Calgary, Berlin, and New York as soon as they become available.
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

THE SCOOP | Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Names 2021 Career Development Award Winner

Michael Bridge (Photo: Bo Huang)
Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (WMCT) has announced accordionist Michael Bridge as the winner of the 2021 Career Development Award.Awarded every three years, the winner receives a $25,000 cash prize plus a recital as part of the WMCT’s Music in the Afternoon series.
Bridge was selected from a total of nine candidates from across Canada. The Jury included CBC producers Alison Howard and Guylaine Picard, violinist Mark Fewer, conductor Naomi Woo, and soprano Christina Haldane.
Hailing from Calgary, Bridge has made a name for himself as a go-to accordionist challenging the perception of the instrument.  Bridge has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Pops, National Orchestra of Brazil, Edmonton Symphony, Ontario Philharmonic, Lethbridge and the Regina Symphony. He is also a member of Toronto’s Ladom Ensemble.

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Despite a busy performance schedule, he has been working towards a Doctorate in music at the University of Toronto. Bridge first appeared in a virtual concert with Music in the Afternoon on November 12 last year.
“With such a talented and versatile performer as Michael, we eagerly look forward to hearing him again (and in person!) for his CDA-winner recital in our 2022-23 Music in the Afternoon season,” writes the WMCT in a statement.
Former winners include:
2018 – Blake Pouliot, violin
2015 – Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano with second prize to cellist, Stéphane Tétreault, and third prize to pianist, Pierre André Doucet
2012 – Vincent Lauzer, recorder
2009 – Darrett Zusko, piano
2006 – Shannon Mercer, soprano
2003 – Sonia Chan, piano
2000 – Yegor Dyachkov, cello
1997 – Jeanie Chung, piano
1994 – Karina Gauvin, soprano
1992 – James Ehnes, violin
1990 – Francine Kay, piano
Congratulations Michael Bridge!
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.

Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)